Thoughts from our Experts
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Is SCORM Really Important to MY Organization?
Over the years, I've found that the subject of online course creation and hosting is nowhere so controversial as when discussion turns to SCORM, the Shareable Content Object Reference Model designed by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), an initiative of the United States Department of Defense. In brief, SCORM “is a standard for the packaging and deployment of Web-based ‘learning objects,’” (Godwin-Jones, 2004).
Very often, when speaking with clients new to eLearning, I am told that they are looking for a SCORM-compliant course and/or Learning Management System (LMS). For those who have already bought a SCORM-compliant LMS, asking for a SCORM-compliant course makes complete sense. After all, they need a course that will run on the system they have. If you are still making the decision about which LMS to use, however, you may want to take a step back and review the facts before assuming that SCORM is a requirement for quality course design.
SCORM is hailed by some as a worldwide standard that results in consistent, reusable learning objects and reviled by others as technologically suspect and pedagogically constraining (Godwin-Jones, 2004). After years of working with various supposedly SCORM-compliant LMSs, I tend to side with the latter group. The most significant issue being that while SCORM content (in the form of reusable learning objects) is subject to strict standards, the LMSs that run it are not. So, while marketing phrases such as “SCORM-compliant” and “interoperability” often lure training decision makers into a false sense of security, promising that any SCORM-compliant course can just be plugged into a SCORM-compliant LMS and instantly work perfectly; they do not, in fact, guarantee easy integration of off-the-shelf or custom courses. It is very rare, indeed, to find that any course needs no "tweaking" of code for it to run on a different LMS from the one for which it was originally designed.
As Brandon Hall Research rightly points out, “The selection and benchmarking process [for an LMS] really does hinge on what you are trying to accomplish: your specific needs; your organization’s limitations...” (2006). This is truly excellent advice - it tells us not to listen to the hype, but to focus on what you really need in an LMS. Here are a few notes to help you make that decision:
You Probably Want SCORM if...
- You are an academic institution: There are a number of SCORM-compliant off-the-shelf LMSs, including open-source offerings like Moodle, that include a rich feature set for academic use.
- You plan to share courses with another organization/institution who uses exactly the same SCORM-compliant LMS or reusable learning objects (RLOs) among different courses. Remember: You can't assume you can share courses with just ANY SCORM-compliant LMS, it has to be the same one as you have, or you WILL be reprogramming those courses to some extent.
- You plan to author courses yourself using only the LMS's companion authorware: If you have bought a package of LMS and authorware software, and feel confident to use that software within your own team, you should be able to create courses that run on that LMS without any issues.
- You only require a limited library of interaction types: SCORM offers multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and matching questions.
- You are not planning to author courses using Adobe® Flash®: Although Flash® has recently taken a beating from Apple® "i" devices (e.g. iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.), it is still the most popular choice for course development by far. Unfortunately, Adobe® abandoned support for SCORM after Flash® version 6. It is possible to create SCORM-compliant course content in newer versions of Flash®; but it must be published back to MX 2004 legacy format, meaning that it is not possible to use some features of the newer versions in SCORM content (for instance, enhanced text rendering).
You Probably DON'T Want SCORM if...
- You are a business organization: Many SCORM-compliant LMS systems cater specifically to academic institutions and are not practical for corporate clients and their reporting needs.
- You have no plans to share courses with any other organization/institution or reusable learning objects (RLOs) among different courses.
- You plan to author courses yourself, or through a third-party vendor, and do not intend to use the LMS's companion authorware: Authorware suites can be notoriously expensive, so you can't assume that a third-party vendor will be willing to foot the bill for software they may only use once for your course. Additionally, programming a SCORM course yourself, for the first time, without authorware software is NOT for the faint of heart. If you do not have a very experienced team who have time to learn the 122 pages of the U.S. Department of the Army’s Business Rules, Best Practices and Examples for Army SCORM v1.2 Compliant Courseware (without a doubt, the finest SCORM reference available), you could be in for a long, frustrating, and expensive development cycle. Anyone just starting out creating SCORM-compliant courseware would be well-advised to read this document from cover to cover – not only courseware developers, but also instructional designers who will benefit from understanding how a course must be organized to conform to the SCORM. This investment in time will pay off in the form of clear communication with courseware developers and by avoiding potential re-work when the course has not been designed with SCOs (shareable content objects) in mind.
- You anticipate a wide variety of interaction types: If your students will be learning concepts or procedures that would benefit from more imaginative instructional design, SCORM might not fit the bill.
- You would still like to author courses (or versions of courses) using newer versions of Adobe® Flash®: There's nothing like the "flashiness" of Flash® for engaging students with slick animations and attractive design.
The bottom line is that SCORM has its uses and works well for many organizations, but it is not synonymous with "best practices" and it may not be the best fit for you. Take stock of what your organization really needs and wants before you decide which LMS is best for you.
Created by Margaret Werdermann, President & CEO of Werdermann eLearning Inc. Nov. 1, 2013.